JD has been urged by retail worker union Usdaw to close their Rochdale warehouse, in order to protect their staff from the spread of COVID-19.
This followed reports that there were still thousands of people working in the warehouse, often standing side by side in confined and unhygienic conditions, suggesting that bosses were flouting the government’s social distancing guidelines.
Tony Clare, Usdaw’s Deputy Divisional Officer, stated: “This is disgraceful behaviour from one of the country’s biggest and most successful companies.
“Unfortunately, this is not surprising: the company has an appalling record when it comes to the health and safety of their staff. We are calling on JD to do the right thing for once and close the warehouse for everyone’s safety.”
Public Protection Inspectors from Rochdale Council were sent to the premises last week to investigate these complaints.
While they acknowledged that steps had been taken to ensure staff safety, they added that more could be done, and questioned the reasons behind JD’s decision to keep its warehouse running.
In an email to the company bosses, Rochdale councillors warned: “Don’t do too little too late and be sorry you stayed open.”
In the face of this criticism, JD insisted: “Our priority remains the health, safety and wellbeing of our colleagues and customers.”
Usdaw claims that if JD were to temporarily close its online operation, it would only have to pay furloughed employees £5 million to supplement the 80% wage contribution offered by the government.
#JDSports made huge profits last year and with the job retention scheme contributing 80% of wages, they could easily afford to close their unsafe warehouse and pay staff in full.
It’s time they did the right thing, for once, and put the health and safety of their staff first.
— Usdawunion (@UsdawUnion) March 31, 2020
For a company which made £340 million profit and was worth £4.7billion last year, this figure appears to be a mere drop in the ocean.
Concerns over warehouse workers’ susceptibility to coronavirus are not limited to JD. Indeed, GMB Union claimed this week that the majority of ASOS’ Barnsley warehouse staff feel unsafe going to work, as they accused the company of “playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives.”
Yesterday, it also reported that 80 of its members, working in a M&S warehouse in Swindon, staged walk-outs on March 24 and 26, to “remove themselves from dangerous working conditions.”
Meanwhile, Environmental Health officers from Bolsover District Council in Derbyshire have urged Sports Direct bosses to observe government instructions on social distancing, following a complaint from a member of its 3,000-4,000-strong workforce.
Although it has offered its employees free bottles of hand sanitiser and adapted its rota system to reduce the number of staff on site, Sports Direct appear to have no plans to close its Derbyshire warehouse.
On the contrary, it seems that, rather than attempting to scale down their operation, the company are trying to boost sales, as they offer free delivery to their online shoppers.
.@ASOS can’t go on like this.
— GMB_Union (@GMB_union) April 1, 2020
For a moment company boss, Mike Ashley, appeared to be intent on keeping even his physical shops open.
Barely half an hour after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pronouncement of national lockdown last Monday, Frasers Group management contacted employees, stating that Sports Direct outlets would continue as normal.
“We are uniquely placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct stores will remain open.”
This was met with considerable backlash from company staff and government ministers alike, forcing Ashley to retract his original statement.
“Our intentions were only to seek clarity from the government,” he claimed in an open letter.
“In hindsight, our emails […] were ill-judged and poorly timed,” he said, adding that, if needed, he would put the company’s “entire fleet of lorries” at the disposal of the NHS.
Ashley’s blunder only really serves to emphasise the inessential nature of the goods sold by companies such as JD, ASOS and Sports Direct.
As Usdaw’s Clare insists: “Selling trainers and sports fashion is not an essential service in the middle of our greatest ever national emergency.”
And meanwhile, warehouse workers are being put at risk to fulfil online orders from consumers, begging the question: should we stop shopping while lockdown is in place?